Taiwan 'accidentally' fires missile; 1 dead

Taiwanese Coast Guards stand next to a damaged fishing boat in southern Tainan in this photo released by Taiwan's Central News Agency on July 1.
Taiwanese Coast Guards stand next to a damaged fishing boat in southern Tainan in this photo released by Taiwan's Central News Agency on July 1. PHOTO: AFP

An anti-ship missile that Taiwan's navy said was fired "accidentally" killed the captain of a Taiwanese fishing boat, in an incident that could potentially raise tensions with Beijing.

Yesterday's fatal blunder in the Taiwan Strait came just as Beijing was marking the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Relations between Taiwan and China have deteriorated since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May. Beijing last week said it had suspended official communications with Taipei.

China's top official for cross- strait affairs Zhang Zhijun yesterday warned that the missile incident would have serious consequences. "We need Taiwan to take responsibility and explain how this could have happened," he was quoted by Taiwanese media as saying.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said it notified Beijing of the incident through a quasi-official body, Agence France-Presse reported.

In the incident, a Hsiung-feng III missile fired from a naval warship, docked at Kaohsiung's Zuoying naval base, landed 75km away in the waters off Penghu island. It hit the fishing boat, killing the captain and injuring two crew members.

Vice-Admiral Mei Chia-shu stressed that the missile was not aimed at Fujian province, which faces Taiwan, adding that initial investigations showed human error could be the cause. He said a missile operator was running checks on the missile system during a sea drill inspection at the naval base when he "accidentally launched" the missile.

 

"Our initial investigation found that the operation was not done in accordance with standard operating procedures," he said.

After the incident, six warships and a naval helicopter were dispatched to look for missile debris.

Ms Tsai, who is returning to Taiwan after a nine-day visit to Latin America, has ordered a review across the military after an emergency meeting with National Security Council secretary-general Joseph Wu and top officials during a transit stop in Los Angeles.

The narrow Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan and mainland China, is seen as one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, is believed to have over 1,300 missiles pointed at the island. Taiwan developed the Hsiung-feng III, which has a range of up to 300km, to counter the threat.

The incident is the latest in an already bad week for the Defence Ministry and military. It follows an uproar over a video of soldiers killing a stray dog, forcing Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan to apologise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan 'accidentally' fires missile; 1 dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe